"The Wages of Genius" by Gregory Mone

Posted on Tue 27 January 2009 in ClubReading

Edward is a genius. Or at least he thinks he is. His academic advisor has told him that his Ph.D. dissertation needs focus, and that Edward needs to stop flitting from one connection to another. Edward is given a chance for a job with a new start-up internet company. He takes it, for lack of anything better to do.

The story is told solely through Edward, so if Edward doesn't know something, neither do we. At first, it seems that Edward is like so many people in their twenties: preoccupied with himself and devoted to talking about theory and philosophy (although Edward's theory and philosophy almost all revolve around physics and Einstein). Edward's job is very undefined, and he calls himself the General Analyst. He seems to do nothing but think, and after six months still has not made a contribution to the company. Although his ideas may seem crazy at first, proper practical application of some of the ideas might render the company some profit. For example, Edward wants to apply the principal of the "golden triangle," where a person's eye first falls when looking at a painting, to internet advertising banners. Interesting theory, possibly practical. But Edward, it turns out, was simply a number, a way of the company showing growth by hiring. When finances turn bad, he's fired.

Edward's preoccupation with thinking interferes with everything. He "thinks" instead of listening to other people. He "thinks" away minutes at a time, not moving. But Edward doesn't seem like a genius; he parrots other's ideas, but has none of his own. And he waivers from his destination, even if the destination is simply down the street. I have always said that distraction was a sign of genius, but I may revise that. In Edward's case, it's a sign of a failure to commit. Failure to commit to anything, as though he were a ship with lots of wind in the sails, but no one at the rudder.

This is an odd book, but it made me re-think my relationship with my job. And made me think better and worse of myself.